When it comes to zombie cinema, the last thing in the world you may expect is an emotionally-charged drama starring none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but such is the case with Maggie, directed by Henry Hobson and co-starring Abigail Breslin. While it may not be “horror” enough for genre fans looking for another undead splatterfest, Maggie succeeds on the strengths of its ensemble, especially Schwarzenegger who turns in a surprisingly understated and thoughtful performance unlike anything we’ve seen before. Breslin also shines as his ill-fated daughter who must contend with her own mortality, making Maggie one of the more refreshing zombie films to hit theaters in some time.
In the opening of Maggie, we learn that the world is a few months deep into zombie-esque pandemic fueled by the "necroambulist virus," a disease that takes six to eight weeks to transform its victim into a mindless flesh-eating machine. And while things haven’t quite gone the way of The Walking Dead just yet, the public’s paranoia about the disease and the impending transformation that follows being infected is still at an all-time high, therefore the government has instituted a quarantine procedure for anyone inflicted where they must be turned over before the virus is too far gone.
And for Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger), the unthinkable has happened- his oldest daughter Maggie (Breslin) has been bit and so Wade does everything in his power to bring his daughter home and keep her safe from the authorities so that she may live out the rest of her days with some dignity before the virus claims her in the end. As you can imagine, there is no happy ending to be found in Maggie, instead it’s more about a father and daughter reconnecting under the most horrific circumstances imaginable. Not only is the titular teenager slowly morphing into a monster, but it’s her father’s burden as a parent to make sure he does the ‘right thing’ once Maggie no longer resembles the daughter he’s raised and loved throughout the years.
While Schwarzenegger isn’t necessarily most people’s first choice for portraying a farmer in the rural Midwest, the iconic actor makes the most of his role in Maggie, showing off a side of himself we don’t normally see. Most of his ‘comeback’ films as of late have been action-oriented, focusing on Schwarzenegger’s legacy as one of the biggest blockbuster movie stars of all-time so it was really great to see him in something so unexpected like this. Hobson smartly plays up Schwarzenegger’s almost larger-than-life screen presence, not really giving him tons of dialogue and exposition, but instead allowing him to play out much of his character’s emotions and the gravity of this new world through a palpable sadness in his eyes and facial expressions as Wade struggles to come to terms with the disease that is claiming his beloved daughter.
Breslin is also a revelation in Maggie- she carries the weight of her character’s predicament with a stoic gracefulness and adds a nice sense of energy to what is an otherwise sullen affair. She may be facing imminent death but that doesn’t mean her character Maggie isn’t going to go down without a fight and there’s a wonderful scene that Breslin’s character shares with another infected teenager that is truly heartbreaking yet hopeful, despite the grave circumstances they’re both facing.
While Maggie may not necessarily the movie you may conjure up in your head when you hear that the former Governator is taking on zombies for his latest, but I think that’s what makes it such a remarkable effort from everyone involved. There’s something to be said about a zombie film that’s really about the human experience more so than bashing in brains of the undead and that’s why Maggie stands out- many of its choices defy audience expectations and in the end, they all work rather beautifully together.
Movie Score: 4/5